By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR
BIG SKY – A survey recently released by the Big Sky Community Housing Trust largely reiterates what most resort town residents already know: Housing is a critical issue that impacts people across the community spectrum.
The set of surveys, one offered to Big Sky employers and one to employees, was intended to inform the housing trust’s future work as well as to characterize the local workforce, according to BSCHT Executive Director David O’Connor.
“It all comes down to helping us make better informed decisions and be better stewards of public and philanthropic funds,” O’Connor said.
Open between May 23 and June 15, the surveys were distributed through the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, the housing trust’s own network, and employers as well as Explore Big Sky and is the first of its kind since 2017. Wendy Sullivan, a consultant based in California, will use the newest responses to update the Big Sky Community Housing Action Plan she prepared in 2018.
The employee survey received 645 responses and the employer survey received 106.
“I think [the response rate] is an emphasis of how pervasive the need is, and the deficit that our community is facing in housing,” O’Connor said. “I think it also is reflective that … this needs to be something that our community needs to address.”
One key takeaway from the survey O’Connor pointed to was that more than 90 percent of respondents said they live in Big Sky year-round and nearly 80 percent of respondents said they plan to work in Big Sky for more than two years.
“To me, that says that we have a lot of people that are living here that would like to be long-term participating members of the community,” O’Connor said. “That to me says something very important: that our housing need is not ski bums looking for a better place to live.”
He added that part of the housing trust’s goal is to help build a well-rounded community and house residents that keep Big Sky sustainable.
“That number to me says that our pent-up demand for housing would fill that gap,” he said. “If we can solve this housing thing, we can provide this community with participatory, long-term residents.”
Another data set that demonstrates the demographic diversity in Big Sky’s workforce O’Connor noted was that employee respondents reported living in a mix of housing types: 45.7 percent said they lived in condos, 26.6 percent in single-family homes, 14.4 percent in apartments and the remaining in dorms, motel and hotel rooms, campers and cars or friends’ homes.
“Conclusions like that help combat nimbyism that there’s us and there’s them and the housing-fit problem is their problem, whoever ‘they’ might be,” O’Connor said. “This says no, this is us as a community.”
Two other questions in the employee survey revealed that more than 45 percent of respondents said they would like to move into a new or different home in Big Sky within the next three years, and a similar percentage of respondents said they want to buy a home in Big Sky.
“Those are rubber-meets-the-road questions for the housing trust on this survey,” O’Connor said. “They did not give us responses that differ from what we perceive as our focus in the next five years, which is that ownership opportunities are the brass ring … We will not turn our back on rental opportunities if they present themselves, but what the community feels will be of the greatest long-term benefit to this community and its housing challenge is ownership—more accessible ownership.”